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Lifetime Earnings Variability and Retirement Wealth

  • Olivia S. Mitchell

    (University of Pennsylvania)

  • John W. R. Phillips

    (Social Security Administration)

  • Andrew Au

    (University of Pennsylvania)

  • David McCarthy

    (Oxford University)

This paper explores how earnings variability is related to retirement wealth. Past research has demonstrated that the average American household on the verge of retirement would need to save substantially more, in order to preserve consumption flows in old age. While several socioeconomic factors have been examined that might explain such problems, prior studies have not assessed the role of earnings variability over the lifetime as a potential explanation for poor retirement prospects. Thus two workers having identical levels of average lifetime earnings might have had very different patterns of earnings variability over their lifetimes. Such differences could translate into quite different retirement wealth outcomes. This paper evaluates the effect of earnings variability on retirement wealth using information supplied by respondents to the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). This is a rich and nationally representative dataset on Americans on the verge of retirement, with responses linked to administrative records from the Social Security Administration. Our research illuminates the key links between lifetime earnings variability and retirement wealth.

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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp051.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp051
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  1. Alan L. Gustman & Olivia S. Mitchell & Andrew A. Samwick & Thomas L. Steinmeier, . "Pension and Social Security Wealth in the Health and Retirement Study," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-3, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. James F. Moore & Olivia S. Mitchell, . "Projected Retirement Wealth and Saving Adequacy," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-1, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  3. Mitchell, Olivia S & Fields, Gary S, 1984. "The Economics of Retirement Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(1), pages 84-105, January.
  4. Olivia S. Mitchell & James F. Moore, 1997. "Retirement Wealth Accumulation and Decumulation: New Developments and Outstanding Opportunities," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 97-12, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2000. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 7682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Carroll, Christopher D. & Samwick, Andrew A., 1997. "The nature of precautionary wealth," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 41-71, September.
  7. John F. Cogan & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2003. "Perspectives from the President's Commission on Social Security Reform," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(2), pages 149-172, Spring.
  8. Heaton, John & Lucas, Deborah, 2000. "Portfolio Choice in the Presence of Background Risk," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 1-26, January.
  9. John Y. Campbell & Martin Feldstein, 2001. "Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number camp01-1, July.
  10. Olivia S. Mitchell & James Moore & John Phillips, . "Explaining Retirement Saving Shortfalls," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-13, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
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